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St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church near Quarryville celebrates its 175th anniversary

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In the early 1800s, Scots-Irish immigrants found work at the iron furnace in Drumore Township. In those early years, priests from St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Lancaster would occasionally travel to the Quarryville area to hold services.

By May 1844, the number of Catholics had grown, necessitating the construction of a church. A stone chapel, initially called St. Patrick’s, was built in what is now East Drumore Township, and the first Mass was celebrated by the Rev. Bernard McCabe, of West Chester.

Today, St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church is a thriving parish with more than 400 families. Last Sunday, church members and clergy from the Diocese of Harrisburg celebrated the 175th anniversary of the founding of the church with a Holy Mass celebrated by Bishop Ronald W. Gainer and a catered banquet under a large tent.

“You couldn’t ask for a better day,” said the Rev. Mark Speitel, pastor at the church.

In his homily, Gainer spoke of how the faith of the parishioners “has carried on from generation to generation.”

“It struck us,” Speitel said, “that we’re part of this great history of the church.”

A new name

In 1857, Bishop John Neumann, of Philadelphia, renamed the church. Legend has it that a number of women in the Quarryville area parish were named Catherine and Neumann opted to name the church for Catherine of Siena, a laywoman who was canonized in 1461.

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The St. Catherine of Siena's choir performs during the church's 175th anniversary Mass.

The chapel was replaced in 1896 when the congregation moved to Third and St. Catherine streets in Quarryville. In 1999, a new church was built at 955 Robert Fulton Highway, opposite Solanco High School.

Diane Dalgaard, the church’s director of religious education, said the congregation has grown since the new church was built.

She attributed some of that growth to Speitel’s leadership, including his decision to add adult Bible studies that have fueled “a hunger” for spiritual renewal by church members. A recent consecration to Mary, mother of Jesus, attracted increased attendance at Bible studies, Speitel said.

Showcasing the saints

He also headed a “Bring Out the Saints” campaign in which the church placed statues of saints on pedestals in the sanctuary.

“The saints help to lead us,” Speitel explained.

When Gainer celebrated Mass on Sunday, he was flanked by statues of saints John Paul II, Joseph, Mary and Catherine.

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Bishop Ronald W. Gainer, second from right, celebrates Mass at St. Catherine of Siena Church.Concelebrating priests include, from left, the Rev. Mark Speitel, pastor; the Rev. Brian Wayne and Monsignor Richard Youtz.

The church also has 20 religious relics that honor men and women of faith who have served the church. Among the relics is a drop of blood from Pope John Paul II that was given to the church by Christopher West, a Catholic author and speaker and member of the church, who received it from the Vatican.

“It kind of stirred us up,” Speitel said, “ bringing out the saints, bringing out the relics and getting closer to the blessed mother, all built up to this 175th.

“There’s a lot happening now.”

The initial church was an outpost — a place for a small band of Catholics to worship.

Today’s church, with its relics, statuary and beautiful sanctuary, is a home — for members as well as for the priest.

Speitel, 55, is a Lancaster native. A graduate of McCaskey High School and Elizabethtown College, he worked at several secular jobs before attending St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. He was ordained in 2008 and previously served at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Columbia and as chaplain at Millersville University.

As a youth, Speitel said he rarely visited Quarryville. As an adult, he feels a sense of belonging.

He calls his appointment to St. Catherine’s “a blessing. It’s so peaceful and the people are wonderful. What a beautiful area. I feel really at home here.”

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